Margery Wardle, a former heavy equipment operator has been fighting the WSIB for 13 years to have her mental stress claim recognized after what she calls prolonged sexual harassment on the job.
WORK CAN RUIN YOUR MENTAL HEALTH. But the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario (WSIB) hates to have to now admit it. So they’ve decided to make life more difficult for workers suffering with chronic mental stress.
It’s all because of what injured workers’ advocates hailed as a “breakthrough.”
Earlier this year the Ontario government passed a law that allowed workers to claim worker compensation for damaged mental health due to work. This shook the WSIB’s iron control over its operations.
It overturned years and years of established WSIB policy that absolutely denied any consideration of compensation claims from workers with chronic mental heath issues due to harassment, bullying and discrimination at work. For example, a worker who has experienced years of sexual harassment at work and subsequently developed depression could make no claim for worker compensation.
The board dug in its heels. It soon turned the workers breakthrough into a cruel setback.
Double standard doubles down on discrimination
The WSIB has drafted new rules that still discriminate against workers with mental health issues. The WSIB said its new policy is modelled on existing coverage in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec.
The new policy imposes a double standard: to win a claim, mentally injured workers will have to prove that the “primary or main cause” of their illness was their workplace. On the other hand, physically injured workers only have to show that their workplace was just one significant contributing cause of their incapacity.
This “higher standard of proof” may very well bar most workers with mental health issues from ever filing a claim—never mind winning one.
“It’s a scandal,” says Denis St-Jean, a health and safety officer at the Public Service Alliance of Canada, who helped to draft the 2013 National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
Karl Crevar: "People are suffering"
Karl Crevar injured his back on the job in 1987 and has been an injured worker advocate ever since. He says workers who are already vulnerable or precariously employed will struggle the most to meet the board’s new requirements on chronic stress claims.
“You’re going to have a lot of people impacted by this,” he said. “People are suffering. And those types of claims should not be treated any differently than any other claim.”
“I’m saddened by this,” says Dr. Josée Fleury, a member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario who has worked with WSIB claimants, including some with mental injuries. “The new policy ignores the reality that mental illness or mental distress often result from an accumulation of stressors.”
The demanding process of making a claim is yet another concern, she notes. “I’m concerned that mentally injured workers are facing even more pressure dealing with a third party than physically injured ones.”
“The (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s) policy will set workers with mental disabilities back decades. Most workers with mental disabilities will not be able to get WSIB support because of this new policy,” said Maryth Yachnin, a lawyer with the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario.